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There are great benefits to connectedness, but we haven't wrapped our minds around the costs.

the mysteries have multiplied
Topic: Miscellaneous 7:39 am EDT, Sep 16, 2014

Jess Zimmerman:

In an episode of The Simpsons called Blood Feud, the ancient Mr Burns is revitalised by a transfusion from 10-year-old Bart, who shares his rare blood type. After the procedure, the usually decrepit Burns glad-hands his way around the nuclear plant he owns, trilling cheerfully: 'Hey there, Mr Brown-Shoes! How about that local sports team?' 'It's funny, Smithers,' he muses to his obsequious right-hand man. 'I've tried every tincture and poultice and tonic and patent medicine there is, and all I really needed was the blood of a young boy.'

Now, there is scientific evidence that Mr Burns was right.

Marcelo Gleiser:

As the Island of Knowledge grows, so do the shores of our ignorance.

Tim Radford:

A couple of decades ago, physicists spoke confidently of a "theory of everything" and one or two even proposed an "end to science". All has now changed. The mysteries have multiplied.

Taylor Swift:

I have to stop myself from thinking about how many aspects of technology I don't understand.

inversion therapy
Topic: Miscellaneous 7:38 am EDT, Sep 16, 2014

Ian Leslie:

Sometimes it's only when a difficulty is removed that we realise what it was doing for us.

Peter Pomerantsev:

If nothing is true, then anything is possible.

Paul Hughes:

The last person standing on the battlefield is no longer necessarily the winner.

Ann Helen Petersen:

The more you make the evidence of the game disappear, the more your audience will be willing to forget that they're being played.

we are collectively architecting an inescapable sense of vulnerability
Topic: Miscellaneous 7:41 am EDT, Sep 10, 2014

Elizabeth Buchanan, the director of the Center for Applied Ethics at the University of Wisconsin-Stout:

But just because we can do this with the data, should we?

Douglas Bonderud:

When it's all said and done, there's no such thing as a "free" app -- and the real cost is measured in data, not dollars.

danah boyd:

We are collectively architecting the technological infrastructure of this world. Are we OK with what we're doing and how it will affect the society around us?

Dan Geer:

A right to be forgotten is the only check on the tidal wave of observability that a ubiquitous sensor fabric is birthing now, observability that changes the very quality of what "in public" means.

Zeynep Tufekci:

Algorithms are meant to be gamed.

An algorithm can perhaps surface guaranteed content, but it cannot surface unexpected, diverse and sometimes weird content exactly because of how algorithms work: they know what they already know.

Casey Newton:

There is the inescapable sense that when it comes to your data, disaster is always one step ahead of you.

Chris Soghoian:

Effective privacy education should not be communicated with a nudge and a wink.

Ed Felten:

Storing data on a phone carries an inherent risk. The complexity of the software on our phones, and the network and cloud infrastructure to which they connect, makes it difficult to identify, let alone secure, all of the points of vulnerability. It's prudent to assume that anything on your phone is potentially at risk.

how desperate we are to demonstrate that we are special
Topic: Miscellaneous 7:05 am EDT, Sep  3, 2014

David Ulin:

How do we connect, or reconnect, to those around us but also to the very essence of ourselves? Where, in the flatness of contemporary society ... do we find some point of intersection, some lasting depth?

Alan Lightman:

One August afternoon, the two baby ospreys of that season took flight for the first time as I stood on the circular deck of my house watching the nest. All summer long, they had watched me on that deck as I watched them. To them, it must have looked like I was in my nest just as they were in theirs. On this particular afternoon, their maiden flight, they did a loop of my house and then headed straight at me with tremendous speed. My immediate impulse was to run for cover, since they could have ripped me apart with their powerful talons. But something held me to my ground. When they were within twenty feet of me, they suddenly veered upward and away. But before that dazzling and frightening vertical climb, for about half a second we made eye contact. Words cannot convey what was exchanged between us in that instant. It was a look of connectedness, of mutual respect, of recognition that we shared the same land. After they were gone, I found that I was shaking, and in tears. To this day, I do not understand what happened in that half second. But it was one of the most profound moments of my life.

Stephen Cave:

It turns out that, with enough tweaking, a scale can be developed according to which humans come out as the brainiest. But the real lesson we might draw from this is how desperate we are to demonstrate that we are special, and how hard this is to do with any rigour.

Michiru Hoshino:

Oh! I feel it. I feel the cosmos!

even doing the right thing rarely works out
Topic: Miscellaneous 7:05 am EDT, Sep  3, 2014

Marcelo Gleiser:

As the Island of Knowledge grows, so do the shores of our ignorance.

Tasneem Zehra Husain:

Personally, I've begun to think of knowledge as a fractal. Rich and intricate worlds lie between points that appear adjacent. The circumscribed area may well be finite, but the boundary is infinitely long.

David Wolman:

What happened in L'Aquila is a window onto how we think about, communicate, and live with risk, and about impediments to clear thinking that afflict us all.

Dan Geer:

The late Peter Bernstein, perhaps the world's foremost thinker on the topic, defined "risk" as "more things can happen than will." With technologic advance accelerating, "more things can happen than will" takes on a particularly ominous quality if your job is to ensure your citizens' survival in an anarchy where, daily, ever more things can happen than will. Realpolitik would say that under such circumstances, defense becomes irrelevant. What is relevant is either (1) offense or (2) getting out of the line of fire altogether.

Adam Gopnik:

The best argument for reading history is not that it will show us the right thing to do in one case or the other, but rather that it will show us why even doing the right thing rarely works out. The advantage of having a historical sense is not that it will lead you to some quarry of instructions, the way that Superman can regularly return to the Fortress of Solitude to get instructions from his dad, but that it will teach you that no such crystal cave exists. What history generally "teaches" is how hard it is for anyone to control it, including the people who think they're making it.

trapped by wrong assumptions about what's essential
Topic: Miscellaneous 7:05 am EDT, Sep  3, 2014

Freeman Dyson:

The truths of science are so profoundly concealed that the only thing we can really be sure of is that much of what we expect to happen won't come to pass.

Carl Sagan:

If we ever reach the point where we think we thoroughly understand who we are and where we came from, we will have failed.

David Brooks:

The information universe tempts you with mildly pleasant but ultimately numbing diversions. The only way to stay fully alive is to dive down to your obsessions six fathoms deep. Down there it's possible to make progress toward fulfilling your terrifying longing, which is the experience that produces the joy.

Charlie Huenemann:

Technology is great, but the more advanced it gets, the more likely it is that its fundamental principles will become obscure to us. Without knowing those fundamental principles, we have trouble "unthinking" our way out of technological problems. We become trapped by wrong assumptions about what's essential to a machine.

Robert Pogue Harrison:

The twenty-first century has only aggravated the political, moral, social, and environmental concussions of the twentieth. There would be reason to applaud the would-be world-changers and start-up companies of Silicon Valley if they made it their business to resist or reverse this process of planetary upheaval, the way environmentalists seek to do with the wounds we have afflicted on nature. Sadly they have no such militancy in their souls, nor much thoughtfulness. With a few exceptions, our new tech armies rarely take the time to think through what they are doing. Or if they do, they tend to think in ways that only add to the turmoil and agitation.

dwarfed by what we can never know
Topic: Miscellaneous 7:33 am EDT, Aug 27, 2014

Tasneem Zehra Husain:

Personally, I've begun to think of knowledge as a fractal. Rich and intricate worlds lie between points that appear adjacent. The circumscribed area may well be finite, but the boundary is infinitely long. Out on the perimeter, we can walk forever and never run out of places to explore. What could possibly be better?


Noticing is easier in a foreign place because mundane things are unusual. It's the sameness of the familiar that closes minds.

Rishidev Chaudhuri:

I remember only vaguely the last place I lived, mostly facts rather than emotional textures or spiritual resonances. And, the facts themselves are elusive; when pinned down they emerge as false or inconsistent or, worse, meaningless without the substrate necessary to render them intelligible. And meanwhile the world around becomes ever more solid, losing the fingerprints of transience and history so that I barely remember what it was like to be new here, for things to not have always been the case, for me to have lived elsewhere or to have seen things differently.

Ed Caesar:

The clues that remain will always prove insufficient to our curiosity. Each archaeological advance yields more questions, and more theories to be tested. Our ignorance shrinks by fractions. What we know is always dwarfed by what we can never know.

Christopher Knight:

Solitude did increase my perception. But here's the tricky thing -- when I applied my increased perception to myself, I lost my identity. With no audience, no one to perform for, I was just there. There was no need to define myself; I became irrelevant. The moon was the minute hand, the seasons the hour hand. I didn't even have a name. I never felt lonely. To put it romantically: I was completely free.

being wrong is an integral part
Topic: Miscellaneous 7:50 am EDT, Aug 25, 2014

Mike Miley:

Not every truth ought to be lived with. Some truths must be overcome.

Ken Caldeira:

The class of things that we think we know but don't is bigger than we think.

Garret Keizer:

What Deborah Ball and Magdalene Lampert want teachers to understand is that being wrong is an integral part of mapping the terrain.

John Allemang:

It's always a balance. But just because we've got it wrong now doesn't mean we can't start to get it right.

Peter Stone, a political theorist at Trinity College, Dublin:

Sometimes, the danger of bad reasons is bigger than the loss of the possibility of good reasons.

Jonah Peretti:

When you think about the media industry, it's also, "How do you reach people and how do you get people to understand?" If you write something and nobody understands it, it's easy to be, like, "Oh those are all the dumb people." Sometimes writing something that's very sophisticated and difficult and technical for a particular audience is totally fine, but you should be able to communicate in simple language.

The thing is, there are dangers in this, because you can also explain something in a way that makes people feel like they understand it when they actually don't.

You can figure out a way to frame something and explain it so that it feels like it confirms what people already believe, including incorrect things they believe.

being mesmerized will have to do
Topic: Miscellaneous 7:50 am EDT, Aug 25, 2014

Mark Edmundson:

It pays, I believe, to distinguish between being absorbed and being mesmerized. Modern life avails one of plentiful opportunities to be mesmerized, enchanted, visually inebriated now: The condition is not hard to bring on. In a culture that asks us too often to "pay attention," we need rest and release, and we can find both through the mesmerizing powers of current electronic culture. Ideally, paying attention should be rewarded by absorption, but when absorption isn't found, or no one teaches us how to achieve it, then being mesmerized will have to do. Being mesmerized is all about wish fulfillment. It's about becoming the soldier, becoming the knight, becoming the sports star, becoming the princess. It is a turning away from reality. To be absorbed is to intensify one's connection with what is real with the hope of reshaping it for the better, if ever so slightly.

Eli Saslow:

Elias Pompa felt heartbroken for the two 15-year-old Guatemalans he had caught a few weeks earlier, buying lunch for them at Whataburger on the way to Border Patrol, even if it cost him $12.50 and a reprimand from a supervisor. He felt disgust for the drug cartels, which had memorized his shifts and sent a letter to the sheriff's office threatening the beheading of two deputies if they continued to interfere with human trafficking.

Pompa performed his work best, he thought, in the rare moments when he could put those issues aside and manage to feel nothing at all.

Christophe de Bellaigue:

It is a remarkable commentary on modern warfare waged by a democracy that a film like Korengal can be made, with the full cooperation of the US military, and without anyone getting into trouble for an excess of candor.

Desmond MacCarthy:

There is nothing to equal the heart-dampening sensation of being crushingly convinced by a crowd that it is only occasionally when people feel strongly that they feel like oneself.

I caught the idea which had been peeping at me, and the irony of it was enough to make one cry: few people experience so genuinely the sense that life is worth living which a feeling of brotherhood gives as when they are banded together to kill their fellow men; never are they so conscious of the humanity of others as when they are out together, sharing risks, to smash the self-respect and mutilate the bodies of those who might, but for a few politicians, just as easily have been fighting alongside them, hoping with them, dying with them side by side.

Francis Fukuyama:

The depressing bottom line is that given how self-reinforcing the country's political malaise is, and how unlikely the prospects for constructive incremental reform are, the decay of American politics will probably continue until some external shock comes along to catalyze a true reform coalition and galvanize it into action.

racing around to come up behind you again
Topic: Miscellaneous 7:31 am EDT, Aug 19, 2014

Maryam Mirzakhani:

You have to ignore low-hanging fruit ... Life isn't supposed to be easy.

Alexei Efros:

We think, 'This is Hollywood theatrics. It's not possible to do that. This is ridiculous.' And suddenly, there you have it.


Is our curse the endless pursuit of a happiness which can never be attained?

Cormac McCarthy:

Anything that doesn't take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing.

Mason, Waters, Wright, and Gilmour:

And you run and run to catch up with the sun, but it's sinking
And racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in a relative way, but you're older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death

Mia Wallace:

Three tomatoes are walking down the street -- a poppa tomato, a momma tomato, and a little baby tomato. Baby tomato starts lagging behind. Poppa tomato gets angry, goes over to the baby tomato, and squishes him... and says, 'Ketchup.'

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